04.01.2015 23 °C
Last day in Africa. Thank you for a lesson on perseverance. We started our trek home with a leisurely morning where Ger zipped off and got an African style buzz cut, I got my hair washed and dried (yes, "thank you Karen" Ger is quipping) and we did some last minute 'touristy stuff ' shopping. We ended with a splendid lunch on Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton and one final South African bottle of wine.
Johannesburg has really surprised me, I expect a lot more shanties and gates around houses. While they do exist it is really quite a bit more picturesque than I had anticipated. Jo'burg is well aware it is has bad rap for crime and is just a pass-through for tourists so it has dedicated some resources to try to change that image. There are cameras on every corner of downtown streets and all South Africans are fingerprinted (there has been some debate among the four of us whether that would fly at home, I think it is a good idea myself.)
Jo'burg is the largest city in South Africa, and the largest city in the world not situated on a body of water (river, lake, ocean). According to survey the population is around 10 mm, likely add another 5 mm at least to include all the unknown millions that live in the shanties or informal housing. Well we didn't spend much time out of our bubble (our hotel is one of 3 on Nelson Mandela Square which is also connected to a mall) we felt safe an welcome the entire time.
We were met at 1pm for our tour of Soweto, a separate city untill the 1990's. The name is an acronym for "South-Western-Townships," or an informal nickname for "So where to next?".
The area is home to over 4 mm people 96% black. It is odd and slightly uncomfortable given our upbringing in Canada to hear people so easily referred to as Black, Coloured or Indian but it rolls of the tongue here with no malice intended. The area was started in 1886 when people moved to work on the nearby Gold Mines (the gold mines were basically in the center of town and the tailings are still very visible (large table mountain like structures)).
The gold mine was a big part of history for Jo'Burg making it a wealthy city (mines have moved now although the local amusement park has a ride that allows you to go 200 m below ground down an old shaft). In 1904 British controlled cities moved Blacks to the area following a reported outbreak of plague.
Soweto suffered many tragedies over the years but was thrust into the world's attention June 16, 1976 when government police open fired on a group of students (young students) 600 students were shot including one minor Hector Pieterson who was just in the wrong spot at the wrong time. We visited the site of the shootings and the Hector Pieterson museum a sobering dose of reality.
Soweto was also home to Nelson Mandela for various periods in his life and Winne Mandela still resides there (we drove by her house) also Desmond Tutu lived down the street from Mr. Mandela at one period. Pretty sure that is the first street I have driven down with tiny houses (under 1,000 sq ft) where Nobel Peace Prize Recipients lived.
Our final stop was at the Regina Mundi Church, located in Rockville, Soweto it played a key role as a place of gathering during the anti-apartheid struggle. It houses a "Black Madonna" created in 1973 to help raise funds for African education. It contains a highly symbolic element which is a large eye under the Black Madonna, which represents the Township of Soweto, with two forks representing the violence against the people and the cross in the middle to illuminate hope. Several famous political leaders have visited the Church including the Mandela several times, Desmond Tutu, Bill Clinton, and Michelle Obama.
The whole afternoon reminded of these people's struggles and while you look at the shanties you see just past them then revitalized state-of-the-art soccer stadium (from the World Cup in 2010) and are reminded they still have along ways to come. I am again reminded of how grateful I am that I was born in Canada.
We boarded our 9 pm flight and I managed to sleep almost the whole way to London (yay, me). We have almost 8 hours of a layover so I booked a couple rooms at the airport Hilton and Ger and I slept another 4, showered and feel human, ready to board our next 8 hour flight home. The only hiccup is I forgot to grab my shoes before my checked luggage was tagged straight to YYC. Whoops, so I will be the idiot in sandals coming off the plane in minus 17. Dumb ass.
It has been an amazing journey. I learned so much, have many great memories (and more than a couple extra pounds). I am constantly reminded when we travel how special Canada is (even the wintery crap we are headed back to).
I am so grateful I could share this with my parents and we all have our health and wits to survive 3 weeks together. A special thanks to Ger for hanging out with 3 Greenalls for so long. My mind has shifted to looking forward to getting home to my dogs and horses (thanks Austin).
Next stop is Arizona in Feb for a half marathon and a horse show (perfect combination) after that Ger and I are still toying with ideas. My list had a couple additions (again) this trip. We survived a couple long flights with layovers so I won't be so scared to try them again.
Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls